Kate Maruyama and I are ‘book-twinned’ because 47North released our novels on the same day, yesterday. I’m an avid reader of her blog Annotation Nation, which invites authors to explain how they’ve honed their craft by examining other writers’ works. So I asked Kate to write a guest post about one novel that helped her to write Harrowgate.
I was approaching the end of the first draft of my novel when I read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Gayle Brandeis, my grad school mentor, who has a knack for suggesting the right book, recommended it to me and I loved it not only for the way it completely transported me, but because it validated everything I was going after in my novel, Harrowgate. Niffenegger also gave me some tools to take back to my second draft, as far as world-building, withholding information and creating tension by bouncing back and forth between points of view.
Niffenegger tells a love story with a supernatural glitch. Because of hereditary reasons, our hero, Henry zaps back and forth in time randomly. As a result, Henry and his future wife Clare’s relationship is a complicated arrangement of meetings—Clare as a child/Henry as an adult, them as adults together and then…but that would spoil a few things.
This glitch creates a constant tension and propels the story forward, but overall, this is simply an interesting way to tell a story portraying the complications of a marriage and how relationships are constantly shifting and changing over time. Within this device, Clare and Henry go through falling in love, losing each other (over and over), losing pregnancies and Niffenegger touches on that ineffable place of drifting apart and coming together that goes on in any marriage of any length. Underlying it all thrums the terrible knowledge that they will come to a place in their path where they will no longer be able to meet.
Niffenegger is clever with withholding information, doling out just enough at the just the right time. The first lesson this book held for me is that not everything has to happen at once. She quickly and carefully outlines the rules of Henry’s condition. Our couple is breathless and time traveling and clearly in love and Henry briefly explains what it physically feels like and how it happens. Then, other questions come up, “When do they meet? Why doesn’t he know her? Is he getting younger?” These can wait because we know the basics of the universe and we know exactly the kind of book we are in and it will all come clear in time. And, better than that, these are the questions that create the tension for the story to go forward.
The different voices in the novel, Clare and Henry, work on so many levels. The voices are so strong and clear and we know exactly who they are and, so importantly, that they really dig each other. They have a sense of humor, which is great. Their awareness of facts are different at every different time we see them and this creates tension, and we also get that great disconnect that often goes on in marriage when feelings and knowledge are presumed, suppressed or ignored. These voices make the love story come to life and in this book, as well as in my own, the reader’s investment in the central love story is everything. Niffenegger persuaded me to dive deeper into my main character Sarah’s life, to ask questions of how the couple works together—what makes them singular. To establish the flavor of the relationship.
My book, Harrowgate, involves ghosts, evil, dark places and creepy moms’ groups. In this case, the supernatural allowed me to explore shifting roles when a baby comes into a family, the alienation a father may feel over the bonding between a newborn and its mother, a working mother’s changing life as an infant storms through it, and, I hope, a portrait of a marriage. Because, like The Time Traveler’s Wife, Harrowgate is a love story. It’s about how love can make you crazy and can lead to wrong decisions with real repercussions. And it’s about how things that are meant to end, will come to their inevitable end, no matter how we rail against them.
Kate wants your ghost stories! Check out www.harrowgatebook.tumblr.com and share your haunted story.
And many thanks, Kate, for hosting my post yesterday on Annotation Nation: